Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Questions To A Christian: Is Pain, Suffering & Death Good?

Imagine a horrible disease were to break out in an impoverished region of the world and it causes millions to painfully suffer and results in many deaths. If, as a consequent of this disease, large numbers of people were to turn to Christ as a result of their suffering who would otherwise have not, would you say that this disease was a blessing in disguise or that it was actually a good thing to have happened?

And what if someone were to have found a cure for this disease early on, and successfully inoculated enough people so that the disease would never have spread and wreaked its havoc, thus preventing all those people from turning to Christ by preventing their suffering, would you say that the cure for this disease and the person who found it would have been doing a bad thing?


  1. I'm not a Christian, but I'll answer anyway. Based on the view I had when I was a Christian, what happens here on earth only matters in that it determines where people wind up for eternity. So if people suffer a bunch and it results in more people going to heaven and fewer going to hell it is a net good. In your example, the disease would be a net good because the end result is that more people would wind up in heaven. The fact that it has caused a bunch of suffering here on earth (the short term) is irrelevant compared to the fact that it has caused less long term suffering (in the afterlife).

    The second question though is a little bit harder. Knowing the whole hypothetical, yes, it is a bad thing that the person cured the disease. However, I would not say he did something bad, because he couldn't know that the disease would cause more people to go to heaven. From his perspective, he could only see the suffering the disease was causing and was putting a stop to it. He was doing the best he could with the information he had. It was just unfortunate that it resulted in bad.

    It'd be like, supposed I borrowed your car, and as I was about to drop it back off to you I realized it was almost out of gas. So I said "I'll be right back" and went to fill up the tank. I certainly don't want to return your car with an empty tank. But while I'm doing this final errand I get hit by a drunk driver.

    Would you say I have done a bad thing by trying to get your car filled up? I would say no, a bad outcome happened by me trying to do a good thing.

    1. Thanks for answering. For the second question, when looking at the overall big picture from the Christian perspective, it would seem that finding the cure would be bad, even though the person who found the cure can't of course be blamed.

  2. Surely if people dying from the disease were a good thing, then a good person would not cure it, and God being THE good person, would ensure the researcher(s) didn't find a cure.

    On the other hand, if a loved one died prior to coming to Christianity, but their death brought me to being a Christian, the suffering of my loved one is gratuitous - there was no reason for it for them, and they receive no compensation for it (by, for example, going to heaven). An omnibenevolent being would not allow this.

    I think situations like this are interesting, in that they point out the absurdity of the (general) Christian position.
    If we assume God exists, then we can assume that there is no gratuitous suffering (all suffering has a purpose). In that case, we should not work towards relieving ANY suffering since ALL suffering is a part of God's plan.
    On the other hand, if the Christian disagrees, and says that we are obligated to relieve the suffering or others, especially when there is little or no risk or cost associated with it, then we can ask why God is not similarly motivated, as there can be no risk or cost associated with it.

    Ordinary Morality implies Atheism by Steve Maitzen explores this problem.

    1. If god creates suffering just to give us something to do then he's nothing more than a mere utilitarian where the ends justifies the means. Sacrifice thousands or millions now, so that millions more will benefit somehow from it.

      It seems from the Christian POV, suffering is either punishment for original sin, or to bring people to Christ. Either option is full of logical problems.

    2. And with either option, it seems rather difficult to justify the claim that this God is omnibenevolent.

    3. A possible third option actually is that satan does all the evil and harm in the world, but that of course contradicts Genesis where god says he punishes Adam & Eve with various pains for eating the fruit. Regardless, "The Devil did it" has no explanatory power whatsoever.



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